Often, DNA evidence is a key tool in absolving or convicting an individual accused of criminal wrongdoing. DNA samples can match people to evidence found at the scene of the crime or prove that the person was not involved. However, sometimes digital evidence can be just as important to prove the presence or absence of an individual at the scene of the crime, especially when an alibi needs to be proven.
This was the case for Enrique Garcia, who was charged with a violent carjacking in Los Angeles which occurred in February 2016. He was positively identified by a witness but maintained that he was not the perpetrator of the crime. His first trial ended in a hung jury, and he was retried, facing a prison sentence of up to 25 years.
In order to mount a comprehensive defense, Garcia's lawyer hired a computer scientist, Mark J. McLaughlin, who then examined Garcia's phone and was able to prove that Garcia was not near the scene of the crime at the time when it was committed. In fact, he found that Garcia's phone had not left his school all day, where he had claimed to be.
McLaughlin was able to prove the defendant's location by using certain forensic tools often used by law enforcement. He looked at which cell tower Garcia's phone was using to send and receive data at the time of the carjacking by examining data from his texts and Facebook logins. While the prosecution might have argued that he left his phone at school at the time of the crime, the Facebook logins prove that Garcia was the one using his phone. The contents of the texts also support the idea that Garcia was not involved, with the defense pointing out, “When you're in a texting exchange with a girl about a date, it's highly unlikely you're also committing a carjacking."
McLaughlin commented on the importance of technological evidence in criminal cases, noting that "[t]he ability to place someone at the scene of a crime is typically done by eyewitnesses, or through something unique they leave behind like fingerprints.” He continued, "When digital evidence from mobile phones and social media shows a defendant was never near the crime scene, but instead in school over four miles away, you could say it holds the same weight as DNA evidence."
Soon after this evidence came to light, a court judge dismissed all charges against Garcia, and he was able to return to his family, who were waiting for him outside the courtroom.
This case continues to underline the growing importance of digital evidence in criminal cases. Often, phones, tablets, or social media may not be directly involved in a case, however, they may provide evidence that gives the defendant an alibi. An experienced defense attorney will explore all available avenues to compile evidence, including enlisting the help of a technology specialist when applicable to your case.